By Thomas Chatterton Williams
December 14, 2016
Last week, I flew into Newark for the last time during the Obama era. I realized that one small joy of my transatlantic commute will be forever taken from me. For the past eight years, that long, blinkered walk into the customs holding pens, a source of annoyance and fatigue, has been ever so slightly alleviated by the sight of our elegant and able president smiling out of portraits positioned along the way, together with a message: The United States Welcomes You. The thought struck me like a tire iron that, barring an Electoral College miracle having to do with Russia, the As-Seen-on-TV grin taunting all of us for at least the next four years will belong to Donald Trump. Trump’s salon-tanned mug will be the face of the United States of America at every point of entry and every American outpost throughout the world! The idea is at once saddening and terrifying; it would be amusing were it not happening to my own country. This is not, by any means, the worst outcome promised by the November election, which delivered the presidency to a man who lost the popular vote by close to three million ballots. Yet our symbols matter. A nation is an idea as much—perhaps more so—than it can ever be a unified culture or collection of people. From now on, the American idea will be—for me and many other citizens and visitors alike—an unwelcoming one, to say the least.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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